Electric car niche growing on the MS Coast. Maybe they work for you, experts & drivers say

The infrastructure is starting to match the interest for electric vehicles, automotive dealers around the Coast say, but it’s still undeniably a fledgling industry with lots of room to grow.

In three years, 12 electric vehicle charging stations around Biloxi have been erected, pushing the total up to 39 around the city, according to data from ChargeHub, a website that maps and locates electric vehicle charging stations. Gulfport has seen seven more stations created, pushing its total up to 17.

There’s also federal, state and local monetary incentives toward buying electric. For those who qualify, the IRS is willing to rebate up to $7,500 for electric vehicle owners. Similarly, Mississippi Power, the Mississippi Coast’s largest electricity provider, offers rebates up to $1,250 for qualifying electric vehicle owners.

The city of Savannah, Ga., has a fleet of light-duty electric fleet vehicles.
The city of Savannah, Ga., has a fleet of light-duty electric fleet vehicles.

The good, the bad, the niche

But electric vehicles are still categorically a niche. Out of 100 customers that walk through the door of Bob Boyte Chevrolet in Biloxi, only two or three are seeking something electric, said general manager Phillip Pogue.

“People just don’t understand them yet,” Pogue said.

Range anxiety,” or the fear that an electric car won’t have enough power to reach the next charging station, is overwhelmingly the largest concern most customers have about going electric.

But at least with the vehicles stocked at that dealership, he said, the technology surrounding electric vehicles catching up to the features offered by those that run on gas. Modern electric vehicles can reach as far as 200 to 300 miles before needing a recharge, Pogue said, and often most motorists are ready for a driving break by that point anyway.

When gas cars debuted, he said, refueling stations weren’t very common yet either.

EVs are considered by many ideal for motorists who predominantly use their vehicles to commute back and forth to work and errands. When driving is done, they can plug in the car to a home outlet and it’s ready for the next trip — only costing them through their utility bill. Charges done at public recharging stations often cap at $20, electric vehicle owners said.

He said the dealership is moving toward stocking around 10 electric vehicles and customers have arrived with moderate interest. Six are in stock now, with 10 more on the way. In order for the lot to stock these, Pogue said, a service station and charging station were installed on site. Lots of customers who come in looking for hybrid vehicles find electric counterparts equally, if not more, attractive.

A custom hot pink Tesla.
A custom hot pink Tesla.

Though Tesla is undeniably the face of the electric vehicle industry, Pogue believes most industry strives in the past few years have been made with established gas automotive manufacturers, who boast an enormous amount of resources, aiming to offer similar features and quality at a more affordable price point. And recently, Tesla has loosened up on its previously proprietary charging port, Pogue said, standardizing the playing field and offering more flexibility to electric vehicle owners.

There’s only one Tesla location in Mississippi, he noted, but plenty of dealerships across the state, like his, that were installing electric vehicle amenities and hiring specific technicians.

Electric vehicle sales at Holmes Motors in D’Iberville, where Mark Holmes manages, tell a different story. He believes the technology, while generally impressive, still has a way to go before it’ll be seen adopted mainstream. A few years ago, he said, the dealership tried selling the electric Nissan Leaf, but it was wildly unsuccessful. The cars went unsold for years.

Since getting rid of the Leafs, Holmes said the dealership has been wary of trying to sell electric, citing a lack of interested customers, a lack of specialized repair shops and high overall buy-in costs. He does, however, believe that electric is most likely the future of the automotive industry — just that the on the Coast electric is still in a phase of growing pains.

Holmes owned a Tesla for about six months before trading it in because it failed to live up to his expectations, rehashing the same issues his dealership has faced, while adding the lack of charging stations in rural parts of Mississippi.

Electric cars distanced from bigger roads run higher risks than gas alternatives. Many gas cars can limp in situations where electric cars are completely dead. When parts on an electric vehicle wear out, he added, it’s usually a costly ordeal. Replacing his Tesla’s windshield was $1,600, he said. He’s noticed that in larger metros and big cities, electric vehicles can flourish, and there are also more service stations and charging points.

Longer trips will inevitably take longer because of the time it takes to charge, he added. For him, 8-hour drives turned out to take closer to 10 and-a-half.

Aaron Landry of Pinehurst, N.C., finishes charging his Model Y Tesla at an electric charging station.
Aaron Landry of Pinehurst, N.C., finishes charging his Model Y Tesla at an electric charging station.

“If you pull a Tesla into a Firestone and say you’ve got problems, they’re probably going to laugh at you,” Holmes said. “Good luck finding a shop.”

In time, he said, the dealership will give electric vehicles another try. It just isn’t profitable for Holmes Motors right now.

Ben Sutphin, a client advisor at Galleria BMW in Gulfport, said for many, electric vehicles adequately fit their lifestyle. But they aren’t sidelining gas cars anytime soon. Both have their place, he said. For short distances and predictable commutes, it’s hard to beat electric. But gas is usually the better option for road trips.

He said it’s a necessity to chat with prospective electric customers and make sure they’re aware of what they’re getting themselves into.

Here are some of his suggestions:

  • Assess if your home can support the electrical demand of at-home chargers; lots of homes in south Mississippi are from the ‘30s and aren’t equipped to handle that amount of power

  • Remember to plan for stops during trips; most modern cars have apps that can factor for this

  • Be aware of any rebates available; electric cars are often costly on the front end and with adequate help, those costs can be lowered significantly

  • Factor for the cost of installing an at home charger, then factor for its effect on your utility bill

  • Be aware of warranties and services you might not otherwise consider that could save money in the long run

An electric vehicle charging station in a parking area.
An electric vehicle charging station in a parking area.

What EV owners said

Many owners of electric vehicles are satisfied with their purchase. The environmentally friendly aspect of electric vehicles can be a source of pride.

Lynda Appleton, from the Woolmarket area, said she wasn’t originally looking to purchase an electric vehicle, but she’s pleased with the way her Chevy Blazer EV has treated her.

She’s retired and said outside of grocery runs and visiting restaurants, she doesn’t need to drive frequently. The SUV is still new to her, but she expects she’s paid about half the price in recharging it compared to refueling an equivalent sized vehicle since she’s bought it.

“You need to go to school almost for all the apps,” she said. It was the closest thing she offered to a complaint.

Ari Deiceh said he doesn’t plan on going back to gasoline cars anytime soon. He’s from Baton Rouge and drives a Tesla Model Y; he drove a Tesla Model 3 prior to that and said he’s been driving electric vehicles for nearly six years. In that time, he’s yet to face a mechanical problem.

The Tesla Supercharger location in D’Iberville is pitted squarely between his home and Florida beaches, so the stop made on the Coast is a rare time he’s using a charger that isn’t his home charger.

He said he believes the general performance of electric vehicles is better than gas alternatives, noting responsiveness of his current and past car. Autopilot doesn’t make or break the car for him, he said, but it’s certainly a cool feature. He expects the industry to continue growing in popularity.

“It’s great, it’s smooth, it’s minimalist,” said Dan Ellereobe from the Monroe area, describing his Tesla Model 3.

He said the driving distance works out for him because the car can drive further than he can go without needing to stop for the restroom.

His wife, Theresa, said the car’s made it all the way to Las Vegas without any problems. She said the car’s in-house applications plan trips to include routing to charging stations.

“It was worth every penny,” she said. “The comparison between this and gas, it’s less expensive, the maintenance is less expensive. Most charging is done at home.”